The December 21 print edition of The Christian Century included my article “A Bible Translation for Everyone.” The piece reflects on the fiftieth anniversary of the American Bible Society’s Good News for Modern Man New Testament.
A version of that piece now appears on the Century website. Here is a taste:
For a baby boomer named Rick, the cover of Good News for Modern Manevoked a flood of wonderful memories. Responding to an online survey that I conducted on the impact of this version of the Bible, Rick reported that in the late 1960s he was a member of a youth group in California which sang folk-rock Christian songs using acoustic guitars. Rick’s church gave out copies of Good News for Modern Man like candy. As youth group started each week, he and his friends would crowd together “and somebody would start tossing—literally tossing—the Testament and a brown Youth for Christ songbook” to everyone in attendance. Like typical adolescent boys, Rick and his friends got rowdy sometimes, and they used the copies of Good News to beat one another over the head until the youth pastor calmed everyone down.
Tom, another respondent to the survey, remembered that in 1972 he was a charismatic Catholic participating in an ecumenical Jesus People prayer meeting with Pentecostals. When they weren’t on the ground speaking in tongues (which Tom called a “joyous babble in the Spirit”) they were playing “Bible roulette” with their copies of Good News for Modern Man. Someone would randomly read a passage aloud, and one or two people in the group would comment on how the particular passage spoke to them.
Released by the American Bible Society in September 1966, Good News for Modern Man—subtitled The New Testament and Psalms in Today’s English Version—quickly became a cultural phenomenon and one of the most successful religious publications in American history. For the price of a quarter, the English-speaking public (and eventually the world) could read the Bible in a language that was (in the words of ABS publicity materials) “as fresh and immediate as the morning newspaper.”
Good News for Modern Man was the brainchild of Eugene Nida, an ABS linguist who pioneered the “dynamic equivalence” approach to Bible translation. At the heart of this theory is the idea that the best translation of a Bible text is one that allows readers to forget they are reading a translation at all. Nida was one of the first Bible translation theorists to take the linguistic position of the reader this seriously. A good translation, he argued, would arouse in the reader the same reaction that the writer of the text hoped to produce in his “first and immediate” readers. For Nida, the test of a translation is how well the readers understand the message of the original text, the ease with which they can grasp this meaning, and the level of involvement with the text that a person experiences as a result of reading the translation.
Read the rest of this version of the piece here or read the entire piece in hard copy in the December 21, 2016 print edition of The Christian Century.
Or get the entire story of the American Bible Society in my latest book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.